461. More About Book Reports

Some of my recent articles have elicited some feedback that deserves some attention. I like that. I’m quite sure that not every idea that makes its way into one of my articles is profound, and when people respond, I feel more sure that they’re listening. I’m not doing what some radio talk show hosts seem to do – I’m not saying debatable things just for the sake of making debate happen. But debate is happening, and I’m not getting away with writing half-truths.
Every child is different, and every teacher is different. What I’ve written so far about book reports is based on my own experience as a child and as a teacher, and on the experiences of many of my friends. But now I’ve heard from other friends, who liked doing book reports, and liked encouraging children to do them. Some remember being eager to read so that they would later be able to write about what they’d read. Some remember various exciting formats for book reports. They remember dressing up as the main character in a book, and being interviewed by someone who played talk show host. Or writing a short sequel to a book, telling what happened after “The End.”
I’ve heard from teachers who have argued, convincingly, that book reports help children focus and read with purpose. Some children need that. They need extra motivation, and for some, it helps to know that when they’re done reading, there’s something they’re supposed to do about what they’ve read.
As a teacher, I tried hard to listen to people with whom I disagreed, and to learn from them. I’m still trying to do that. Part of my reason is that I’m not sure
I’m totally right about everything I say. And the other part is that I think people will be more likely to listen to what I say if I listen to what they say.
So let me officially revise what I’ve written about book reports. I still have bad memories of having to do them and having to assign them, but there are people who have good memories of both. Making them optional is one way to approach the issue, but that’s not the whole answer. Calling something optional doesn’t make it optional. If some children do book reports and some don’t, both peers and parents may consciously or unconsciously apply pressure on those who don’t. Children can put pressure on themselves, too, not believing that teachers really mean “optional” (or not knowing what “optional” means).
And some children appreciate being told what they have to do; they wouldn’t choose to write book reports, but once told they have to, they enjoy writing them. Some kinds of freedom baffle and/or immobilize them. I don’t identify with that much, nor understand it much, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

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